Dialectics that sweep away ‘COWDUNG’: the construction of evolutionary, cultural, and scientific niches

Kevin N. Lala, Marc Fedlman, John Odling Smee

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Developmental geneticist Conrad Waddington and evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, two of the pioneers of niche construction theory, were explicit in regarding organisms as co-directing their own evolution. In The Ethical Animal (1960), Waddington anticipated features of contemporary cultural evolution theory, including the evolutionary significance of cultural norms. Lewontin was suspicious of evolutionary accounts of human behaviour, which he viewed as governed by political forces and power relations, and in The Dialectical Biologist (1985) stressed how scientific enquiry could be biased by politics. Here the authors suggest that Waddington’s emphasis on ethical considerations, and Lewontin’s admonitions concerning sociopolitical interpretation of biological research, remain relevant to the field of cultural evolution, and they review some related scientific controversies. The authors argue that human cultural activities not only construct evolutionary and cultural niches, but also scientific niches. This reasoning applies to both contemporary debates within the evolutionary human sciences and wider evolutionary theory, including niche construction theory itself.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of cultural evolution
EditorsJamshid J. Tehrani, Jeremy Kendal, Rachel Kendal
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9780191905780
ISBN (Print)9780198869252
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 May 2023

Publication series

NameOxford handbooks


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